The Conversation with the Former Parishioner
Even with all the good will in the world, Catholics who have decided to quit their Novus Ordo parish in order to attend the Latin Mass elsewhere often dread those meetings with parishioners they used to see near home—especially the cheerleaders for the postconciliar status quo.
Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,
I knew it was coming. This morning I had “the talk” with someone from my old parish. We bumped into her at a school event and she asked if we would be going to the special event at our parish (I’m thinking no). Then, without much ado, she started saying that we’re abandoning the parish family at a time when we’re most needed (probably because there just aren’t very many families). She even said I might be doing the devil’s work by not staying and fighting for the parish. To my astonishment, she said that by leaving my parish to attend the Latin Mass, I was putting “man-made traditions ahead of God.” This made me realize yet again that the idea that the liturgy itself is part of Sacred Tradition, and that ecclesiastical traditions deserve special veneration, is basically gone from Catholics.
What’s most frustrating is that there seems to be no standard in conversations like this. All we can appeal to is personal feeling or abstract principles. For her, that was: “when things get tough, you stay and fight for your parish.” I was pretty firm in my response but maybe not firm enough. I realize that we see things very differently. When I mentioned the importance of tradition, she criticized me for being too intellectual. She says she just tries to have a “simple faith” and trusts that “things will work out.” She said “you know too much” and added “ignorance is bliss.” She told me I’d be better off if I was less aware of the things I call “abuses.”
I’m not actually upset with her on a personal level. What bothers me more is that she thinks what she does because of the way she was formed liturgically for most of her life. We’ve failed as a Church to deal with the fact that people’s experience of the liturgy over the past 60 years has malformed them. Now it’s hard to rectify. They’ve come to have beliefs that almost no Catholic had before 1960.
In this same vein, a new priest at the parish we’d abandoned gave an interview in the diocesan paper about the new “youth Mass” he’s implementing. He has youth in all the “roles”: lectors, servers, EMHCs, etc., so that “the Mass looks like them.” He said “the beauty of the faith is in our diversity” and having different liturgical styles in our line-up — including the guitar music at the youth Mass — is good because each style fits a different “audience.” Interestingly, I wasn’t even mad when I read all this… more sad, in the fatalistic way you feel when you know someone is going to start drinking again in spite of all the problems it’s going to cause. Am I right in thinking that virtually no Catholic before 1960 would have said or done any of these things?
Quare Conturbas Me
* * *
This kind of encounter is bound to happen. You and your wife must expect it, and understand why what you are doing is right, not only for yourselves, not only for your children, but for the future of the Church, on behalf of which we must work, pray, and suffer.
Our Lord and the Apostles frequently warned that we would encounter stiff resistance for following the Gospel — and yes, the content of our faith does include the many intertwined and beloved traditions that the Church has preserved and handed down across the centuries! We have no reason to think that it is impossible, over a period of wasteful and chaotic decades, for mainstream Catholics to deviate so far from this content that their coreligionists who continue to believe and live as Catholics have done for all previous centuries will end up looking like oddballs from outer space.
Catholic orthodoxy today is imperiled. Wherever liturgy is not traditional, it has become a playground of ideology or narcissism. Most Catholics are simply not aware of it, just as most people are not aware of the hormones in the water supply due to birth control pills, or the brain-altering excitotoxins in our foods. It’s all “legal,” after all; if there was any big problem, the government would fix it, right? And yet: abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality, and many other evils that violate the commandments of God are not just tolerated as evils but promoted as goods, even “rights,” by the government. “Must be okay”: that is what most citizens are bound to conclude.
So it is with the Church: a new kind of ecumenical council, a new liturgy, a new catechism and its multitudinous spinoffs, a new code of canon law, new movements, a new secular way of life—it’s all “valid” or “licit,” isn’t it? If there was a big problem, the pope or the bishops would tell us about it, right? You see what I’m driving at.
It is at once a burden and a blessing to have been given eyes to see and ears to hear — certainly through no merit of our own, but because Our Lord is now and forever the supreme and invisible Head of the Church, and He is working fortiter ac suaviter, strongly and gently, to bring souls back to dogmatic truth, righteous living, and a truly sacred liturgy in continuity with the Church’s heaven-breathed heritage.
Meanwhile, let us pray for people like the woman who accosted you and gave you a “dressing down.” The fact that she thinks it is better “not to know” shows, startlingly, the matrix out of which the clerical abuse scandal erupted: people who “pay, pray, and obey,” even at a time when vigilance, inquiry, zeal, and principled adherence are the qualities needed the most. There are still Catholics who do not want to know about Pope Francis or about the unwisdom of the Church’s “opening to the world” and “updating.” We can try to educate them, but often we will have to let them be and pray for them, even as we pray for our own ongoing conversion of heart.
You are quite right that a Catholic in the 1950s would not have said any of these things. Of course not. Whatever may have been the warts and wrinkles on the Church’s postwar complexion, the liturgy then was recognizably done in the same spirit everywhere. At times it was rushed, and at times, the singing was dreadful, but among those who had been touched by the better element of the Liturgical Movement, chant was rising up across the world and solemnity was on the increase. It seems doubtful that so many publishing houses would have been churning out missals and guides had no one been buying and using them. Were a 1950s Catholic (that is, one who had not subsequently been brainwashed by years of propaganda) suddenly to arrive on the earth again, he would walk away in horror from St. Ipsydipsy’s parish, thinking it to be a liberal Protestant conventicle or at any rate off its head, and would find himself quite at home in the nearest Latin Mass community. This is just an updated version of what Newman once said: If St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose were to come back to the Western world today, they would walk right past the fancy cathedrals or the carpeted auditoriums and duck into the backstreet Latin Mass, because they would recognize in it the same Faith and the same spirit of worship.
The conciliar and postconciliar revolutionaries have worked tirelessly for decades to uproot the traditional faith. For a time, it seemed as if they had utterly succeeded. Yet the slow and steady growth of the traditional movement, together with the increasing rejection of the program being pushed by Pope Francis, is God’s last laugh on their vain attempt to remake our religion (see Ps 2:1–6). The real “youth Mass” will prove to be the traditional Latin Mass: it is where the serious young Catholics will be found when the hollow institutional shell collapses into dust.
Cordially in Christ,
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.